Black Butte (Oregon Cascades; 6,436')

Black Butte is a remarkably symmetric cinder cone just west of the tourist trap known as Sisters, OR. The famed Mouth of the Metolius can be found at its western base, and an amazing fault ridge extends North from it. In summer one can drive up halfway to the summit, and the trail is a popular 90-minute family affair, including toddlers and tiny dogs, but in winter, with lots of new snow and 3,100 vertical feet from the highway, it's a decent approximation to a real mountain.

Topo Map

Routes: W Side (moderate ski descent)
E Side (moderate ski descent)

Black Butte in early September seen from Highway 126 just east of Santiam Pass

Date: January 2, 2004

Party: Dietrich and Paul Belitz

Time: 4hrs 40 mins from highway to summit; 1 hr 30 mins down; 7 hrs roundtrip

Comments: Black Butte was skiable from the summit to the highway, which happens rarely!

Trip report:

After having drowned in three feet of new snow in dense forest on an attempt at Echo Mt. a few days earlier (we covered 750 vertical feet in 2.5 hrs!), we took advantage of a break in the weather and went to Black Butte, mostly because it's got essentially zero approach. We managed to park at an unofficial Sno Park right at the intersection of the highway with the road to Camp Sherman, and at 9:15am we set out through deep, unconsolidated snow. Under the pine trees it was bearable, but in open spots, with Manzanita under the new snow, there was some unbelievable wallowing. We made decent progress, though, alternating breaking trail, and climbed 1,500' in the first two hours. There was some slab formation, so we stayed left (north) in the forest to avoid the open slopes crossed by the summer trail. At around 5,500' conditions got worse, slowing us down quite a bit, and we got doubts about making it to the summit. On the last few hundred vertical feet we got some wind slab, though, and that helped a lot. Shortly before 2pm we reached the old lookout. Admittedly, that's still some 30' below the true summit, but since it's the traditional ``summit'' rest spot, and since it was the only place where we could get out of the wind, we called it good there. The thermometer showed 20 degrees, and a west wind at about 20 miles per hour produced quite some wind chill. The Cascades were mostly socked in, but there was some sunshine over Central Oregon, which had continuous snow cover as far as we could see. We brewed up, took some pictures, and prepared for the ride down. The first part was a bit crusty (the downside of the wind slab we had greeted as a godsend on the way up), the next 1,500' or so were really good, then the snow became a bit heavy but was still okay by any standards (and terrific by Cascade standards). We got back to the car with half an hour to spare until sunset. Nice trip!

Photo Gallery:

(Click the pictures to see a higher resolution image)

Paul working hard View West from high on Black Butte DB on a cold and foggy summit Paul digging a bit too deep This turn worked better Watch that outside ski! Oh no! Back at the car already